The legislative and municipal elections that El Salvador holds Sunday represent a kind of evaluation of Nayib Bukele’s presidency. His image was placed at the center of the campaign of the ruling New Ideas (NI) party. He seeks control of Congress for the next three years, something he currently does not have.
The swift rise of NI, founded in 2018 by a movement of the president and led by one of his cousins, is closely linked to the popularity of Bukele and capitalizes on the population’s rejection of the traditional parties.
The latest poll by the Jesuit Central American University (UCA), released before the ban on publishing polls came into force, showed NI close to obtaining an absolute majority (56 seats).
The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly is made up of 84 deputies, of which only 43 are needed to make ordinary decisions and 56 to approve foreign debt, elect magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, and reform the Constitution.
Bukele’s infallible image?
In the more than a year and a half in office, polls show Salvadorans overwhelmingly approving Bukele’s presidency
In the last University Institute of Public Opinion of the UCA (ludop), Salvadorans gave him an approval rating of 8.3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
In June 2020, after serving a year in power, he was 7.71 and 7.8 at the end of 2019.
A survey by the Centro de Estudios Ciudadanos of the Francisco Gavidia University in January 2020 gave the president a score of 8.87. In April he rated 8.7 and 8.67 in September 2020.
The Iudop survey also shows that 57.5% of the population feel they identify with Bukele’s government.
This feeling of closeness and a still favorable image could explain why NI based its electoral campaign on the image of the president with the message that they are the party “with the N of Nayib”.
According to a study by the Acción Ciudadana organization, the political parties spent more than $12.3 million on campaign ads between November 2020 and February 2021.
Of that total, NI spent $8.72 million dollars, representing 71% of the total spending on advertising.
The fall of legislative bipartisanship
After his expulsion from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN, left) in 2017, Bukele took the corruption cases associated with his former party and the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena, right) as a flagship to win the Presidency in 2019.
His victory put an end to three decades of the Arena (1989-2009) and FMLN (2009-2019) governments. However, the recent history of the Legislative organ of El Salvador has been marked by those two parties, which still have the majority of deputies. A sweep by NI in today’s legislative elections could end that situation.
The polls indicate that Arena and the FMLN could fall to an opposition minority with New Ideas winning a simple majority and possibly reach the qualified one in coalition with the Great Alliance for National Unity (GANA, right), which currently has 10 deputies.
This far-right party served the president as an electoral vehicle after the delay in the initial registration of NI.
The foreseeable triumph of New Ideas would mean that the president would serve the rest of his term unopposed, which experts and opponents interpret as a concentration of power.